Listen Live

How a man turned his basement hobby into a Roaring Fork summer staple

Aug 31, 2016

Jim Horowitz created Jazz Aspen Snowmass more than two decades ago.
Credit Patrick Fort / Aspen Public Radio

For more than 25 years, Jim Horowitz has been putting on some of the biggest music events in the Roaring Fork Valley. But it wasn’t always that way.

Horowitz was the son of two New Yorkers, and after World War II, his parents moved the family to Miami Beach, Fl. where they had a successful restaurant chain called Junior’s.

As a kid he did two things. He helped around the restaurant, and begged for his parents to buy him a piano. After a while, he was finally successful. Horowitz’s parents tried to put him in lessons.

“There were piano teachers, but the teachers couldn’t really handle me because I didn’t want to read,” said Horowitz. “I just wanted to play what I heard.”

Horowitz went to Antioch College in Ohio, where he studied political science. Right after college, he got a job as a paralegal for a civil rights lawyer in Washington D.C.


A neighbor there heard he played piano. One day she came knocking on his door.


“... (She) said ‘I wanna rehearse. I want to get an act together with jazz and blues.’ And I said, ‘I play Beatles music. I don’t know anything about jazz and blues. Plus, I work for a lawyer,’” he recalled.

Within weeks, they were playing gigs all over the city.


But after years of performing and teaching gigs, he felt like he wasn’t growing anymore. He wanted to try something different — get more into the business side of things. After a trip to a jazz festival in Marciac, France, he knew the perfect place to start his own music event — a place where his parents vacationed when he was a child: Aspen.

But after two years, the festival was struggling to make ends meet.


“I was discouraged and the people around me were like, ‘You know what? You should probably just move on,” he said. “It wasn’t catching on. It was just a little thing. It was just a little jazz concert at the tent. No one really thought of it as anything different.”


Soon, the festival moved to Snowmass and became what’s now known as the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience.


Since his exit from the professional gigging world, Horowitz said he’s actually become a better piano player. In the past few years, he’s been able to get the non-profit back to its roots — focusing on jazz as part of its mission. The JAS Cafe at The Little Nell brings world-renowned jazz musicians to an intimate venue where, sometimes, even Horowitz takes the stage.

“I’m very excited about the future of that part of JAS and where it’s going to go,” said Horowitz. “That’s very exciting and very personal. I’m going to keep my finger right on it until I can’t.”